Oh, I Do So Love Rebecca Solnit…

Sharon September 28th, 2012

ay it, sister!

O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.

Read the whole thing, and read it now. Then go back and read it a couple of more time.  More:

I don’t love electoral politics, particularly the national variety. I generally find such elections depressing and look for real hope to the people-powered movements around the globe and subtler social and imaginative shifts toward more compassion and more creativity. Still, every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anesthetic. The usual reply on the left is that there’s no difference between the two experiences and they prefer that Che Guevara give them a spa pedicure. Now, the Che pedicure is not actually one of the available options, though surely in heaven we will all have our toenails painted camo green by El Jefe.

I don’t mean to be rude, or anything, but I’m with her here.  Am I disappointed in President Obama?  Umm…of course.  Would I have been disappointed in anyone that actually got elected?  Umm…of course.  Does that mean he’s not a hell of a lot better than George W. Bush by my lights?  Yes.  It amazes me how fast people forget that the lesser of two evils is actually usefully LESSER.

Ultimately, I don’t hold out a ton of hope for national politics, but I will say this – I think that there are a lot of things that national politics could do to make the quality of people’s life in an era of decline a lot better.  Taking care of people is better than not taking care of people.  Making sure they have food is better than not.  And when we have better, it is worth saying so – while we still keep our eyes on the ball of what sucks.

Say it, Rebecca!

Sharon

Getting the People in Your Home to Eat the Actual Food

Sharon September 6th, 2012

I think I get more requests for ideas for helping people who are on-board with the idea of sustainable eating get the rest of their families on-board than on any other food storage topic.  So let’s talk about that.  I actually wrote this post back in 2008, before our fostering adventures, so I’ve added some suggestions since then, based on my experience of getting traumatized kids who have lived on not enough food and all processed to eat good, real food.

In a perfect world, of course, our partners, roommates, children and other assorted members of our lives would say “Oh, I’m so thrilled you are growing a garden – now I can get rid of the honey-barbecue chips and the fast food, and start really appreciating rutabagas like I’ve always wanted to.”  In our perfect world, when Daddy unveils his laboriously created six-vegetable risotto with an enthusiastic “Voila!” the kids would say “Wow, Dad, is there really, truly bok choy in it?  And we can have seconds?  Yay!” instead of “What’s ‘wallah’?  It looks gross.  And ewww, what’s that green stuff?”

I would say the odds are good that most of us live in a somewhat imperfect world.  If we’ve been lucky enough to have started our kids on this stuff from birth, we may avoid the latter (mostly), but since most of our lives also involve some adults we didn’t get a hand in raising, and who we love despite their weird habits, we’re kinda stuck with them, and the painful reality that shifts in diet run up against people’s weird habits pretty hard.

The thing is, changing someone’s food habits is a big thing – we can do this for ourselves – all of a sudden we see the light and begin eating a new way – but making others do it?  That’s a challenge.  In many ways, we define ourselves by what and how we eat – so attacks on diets look like attacks on people, and often are fended off with the ferocity of warfare.  Nor does moralizing work very well – we all know the truth – the Western diet kills people, and the dying often cling to it with a passion that proves firmly that you can’t make most people change by simply telling them how bad their choices are.

As far as I can tell, with rational adults, and extremely rational teenagers there are a few ways of at least getting them onboard for the broader project of changing diets.

1. You enlist them in the name of self-improvement and being better people.  You can do this straight, or manipulatively. (And yes, I know in a perfect world, you’d never manipulate people at all, but I’ve never met a family in which there was no manipulation at all, if you include the sort of blatant, half humorous stuff.)   The straight way is simply to say “I think we all ought to be eating better – do you agree?  Here’s what I want us to do.”  This works in some families and with some people – and it doesn’t with others, even if we wish it would.  Don’t forget to mention the chance to be self-righteous to them that like that sort of thing the “I can’t believe those people who eat all that processed…”

If you do need/want to be sneaky,  it helps, I think if you start the discussion from the assumption that you both care very much about these things and want the same things.  That is, some people can be confused a little by simply starting from the “Of course we both care desperately that everyone have enough food in the future, so I know you will agree with me.”  Some people will assume that if you are assuming they care about this seemingly good thing that they must, and that gets you part of the way.  Or perhaps you could enlist their help against a larger obstacle ”Katie our two year old is so terribly picky, and I’m so terribly concerned that she be able to eat things…perhaps you can help me make it easier for her…” Or if you think that it will work (and if they are a person you’d say this sort of thing to) you can tell them it turns you on when they eat what you want them to eat.    Heck, you’ve got weirder kinks than a taste for seeing your girlfriend devour kale, right?

2. You use a different motivator than the one that moves you.  If you know the person you are thinking of is, say, cheap, you talk about how to save money, with an emphasis of doing the things you want to do anyway.  If the person is into cool gadgets, talk about the neat stuff you can buy to preserve food.  With small children, a great strategy is to convince them that you don’t really want to share your asparagus anyway because it is a wonderful grownup food that children don’t need, or to describe the food  in disgusting terms – you aren’t just offering them healthy food, you are offering them roadkill stew with sweet potatoes, and if they eat it, they can tell their friends that they ate week old raccoon.

3. You sneak the food into their diets gradually.  This is often the case when the motivated person is the primary cook, and has some control over what goes into food.  Suddenly, the noodles are whole wheat or brown rice flour.  Secretly, the meatballs are half tvp or ground zucchini. The yogurt is in the old containers, but it comes from home and has homemade strawberry jam mixed in.  You don’t talk about it, unless someone says something nice.  The word “fritter” shows up in your meal, and the fritters are suspiciously green.  The cookies get kinda browner and a little denser.  When asked about these things, you tell people they must be imagining things.

4. You are a total hardass.  This works only if you are the sole cook for someone without much power to get food elsewhere – young kids, teenagers too young to drive or too poor to buy food, spouses so accustomed to eating the partner’s cooking (or sufficiently well disciplined ;-) ) that they won’t dissent too much.  It starts out once a week – there’s this meal, and no snacks unless you eat some of it.  Then it goes up to two or three meals a week – dal and rice replaces burgers, no one buys snack cakes and juice boxes and carrot  juice is in the pitcher.  Don’t like it?  Tough patooties.  Guess who is holding the car keys?  The problem here is the danger of mutiny, or that someone else might actually learn to cook.

5. You compromise – a little of this, a little of that – and the truth is that while you have to eat more out of your storage, and you find some meals that everyone will like, you never quite get to the point where everyone is really eating this way all the time – there’s still some frozen stuff and take out in your life.  And that’s ok – just as long as you have a range of things people will do with the 75lbs of dried chickpeas that don’t involve sculpture.

Some practical ideas:

1. I’ve had great luck (and other people I know have) getting kids to eat raw cabbage dipped in ketchup, even if they won’t eat it cooked.  For that matter, a bottle of Heinz is a small price to pay to help kids adapt to eating veggies.

2. Root vegetables roasted in a pan are the basis for tons of meals – they can go inside enchiladas or wrap sandwiches, act as a starchy side dish (and are great at room temperature or cold),

3. Fritters.  You can dip them in anything.  Also dumplings.  No one has to know what’s inside/

4. Less sweet pumpkin or sweet potato pie can be breakfast, lunch and dinner (although maybe not in the same day).

5. For people who like strong flavors and mixed up foods, things like jambalaya, gumbo and casseroley things are your friend, because it is hard to tell exactly what’s in it – particularly if you chop the mustard greens finely.  If kids or family members hate onions or pepprs, try pureeing them for inclusion.

6. For people who like everything to be separate with nice clean lines, the potato is your friend.  Meat and potato people can get used to an ever-increasing amount of potato and a gradually decreasing amount of meat.  Sweet potatoes are almost a potato, right?

7. Vegetarian cookbooks are your friends – even if you aren’t veg.  They often have recipes that you’ll be able to put together with only pantry and garden.

8. Teenagers like power.  Get them cooking – and give them the power, within certain parameters, to choose some of the meals.

9. It really helps to let go on some things.  If you reassure your honey you aren’t trying to take away everything she loves, that you will still love him if he stops at the convenience store, your kids that candy is still allowed now and again, this will help the transition.  In fact, it helps if you instigate – let them have ice cream sundaes for dinner once a year, and you put it on the schedule!  Work with them, at the same time you are working “against” them.

10. Sometimes using a fat/salt/sugar laden technique is what is needed to get started with a new food – make rutabaga chips fried in oil with salt – and once they admit they like rutabagas, then you can work on mashing them.  Cheese sauce makes all things better.

Sharon

But All the New Jobs Suck!

Sharon September 6th, 2012

In case you missed this article last week, we find what most of us have already guessed – a lot of the much-vaunted “new job creation” is crappy, ill-paid make work without much future – and yet again, people who could once earn a living are now struggling to manage bad jobs:

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

At the same time that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed well past the rate of inflation, those without college degrees are being squeezed out, as are young college graduates.  This represents a deep and really disturbing change in the way the economy works, and one unlikely to turn around – instead, we’re seeing the reality – you can’t afford to get an advanced degree, and you can’t get a job without one.  This is the gradual elimination of the middle class – and it ain’t going away.

Sharon

Turning Towards Knitting Weather

Sharon September 6th, 2012

It was a hot summer.  I started a few knitting projects but I’ll admit, I didn’t really want anything wooly (or even cottony) on my lap most of the summer.  It is still steamy here, and we’re going to hang on the remnants of Hurricane Isaac for a day or two, but then they are  predicting a sharp turn in the weather – by Monday highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s.  That’s more like it baby – I want to knit!

Honestly, most of what I make are small projects – socks, hats, mittens – the kids lose mittens so fast that I have to keep knitting to keep up.  I want to make Baby Z. a blanket and have some lovely superwash wool that is just crying out to be a soft warm baby snuggly.  And my children are campaigning for me to make them monsters for Chanukah -and who could resist that?  I mean seriously, knitting monsters is awesome.  I could also make a few more diaper covers.  And one of these days I’m going to finish knitting my tallit (a project I’ve been working on for ummm…nigh on infinity).

So it isn’t like I don’t have anything to knit, but hey, give me more ideas.  What are you making?  What would you like to make?  It can be sewn (I’m learning to make Waldorf dolls), or crocheted or whatever – what’s your handwork?

Sharon

Food Storage Class Starts Thursday!

Sharon August 21st, 2012

So apparently in my sleep-deprived, brain rotted state, I managed to leave out the start date of my food storage and preservation class – it starts on Thursday, August 23rd, ie, this Thursday.  I still do have spaces, and as it is asynchronous and online, you don’t have to be able to drive to my house ;-) (which is probably good, since it isn’t very clean at the moment.)  It will help all of us build up that reserve and deal with the summer’s glut before the long winter (and high foot prices) to come!  Email me for more details or to register at [email protected]  Cost of the class is $150.

Here’s the syllabus:

Week 1,  - Introduction to Food Storage, How much, where to put it, and how?  Can I afford this?  Overview of food preservation methods, their energy and economic costs.  Storing Water, making space.  Food safety, thinking about the foodfuture, recommended reading.

Week 2, : Water bath canning 101, Preserving with Salt, Sugar and Honey, Bulk purchasing, sourcing local foods, finding food to preserve, what food storage can and can’t do, eating more locally year round.

Week 3: Dehydration basics, Tools you need and where to get them, Menu making and how to get people to eat from your pantry, Setting up your kitchen for food storage, Storing herbs and spices, Sourdoughs and grain ferments, Preserving foraged foods.

Week 4 : Lactofermentation; Special needs, dietary and health issues;  Storing food for children, pregnant and lactating women; Storing medications, gluten-free storage;  Basic dairy preservation;  Building up your pantry and Managing your reserves. Reducingfood waste.

Week 5: Pressure Canning; Beverages, Teas and Drinks; Preserving in Alcohol, Coops and Community Food Security; More Menus and Recipes; Root Cellaring and in-Garden Storage, building Community Reserves.  What will we eat when in a low energy future?

Week 6: Season extension, Preserving Meats, Sprouting, The next Steps, Getting Your Community Involved, Teaching others, Food Preservation as a Cottage Industry, The long view of food storage and preservation, Oven canning.

We will support each other as we experiment with new techniques and build up our pantries as we go – and have a lot of fun!

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